I have had a sleepless night - a nuit blanche, as the French say, although there was little 'white' about it. I suppose there is a lot to think about at the moment in the Church and in the World. But, as I am inclined to think these days, such crises are rarely about what they purport to be about, i.e., the way they work out can follow all kinds of lines of causality which are rarely at the forefront of minds observing and commenting on the unfolding drama. As I say regularly to Mrs Ches, it's not about what it's about.
I can just feel conspiracy theorists everywhere rubbing their hands with vindicated glee at the news of the crisis in Ukraine. Perhaps Russia's tanks will come rolling in after all! Well, they probably will in Ukraine - those tanks that are not already stationed there, that it. Above the heads of Ukraine's unhappy people, two grand narratives clash and lock horns.
On the one side, there is the story that many in the Ukraine want greater ties with Europe and resented President Yanukovych's lurch back towards Russian patrimony. The Euromaidan, as the wave of demonstrations has been called, gains its energy from this pro-freedom movement to be liberated from erstwhile overlords and, quite unwittingly, to be placed in hock to future overlords.
On the other side, there is the story that Russia is now intervening in a state which has abandoned legality, whose parliament has removed the legitimate executive power and which, in its descent into chaos under thugs and criminals, is likely to turn on the mass of Russian people who live there (largely in the Crimea).
Naturally, accusations about the crimes of either side are coming thick and fast. Russia is said to be settling scores and clawing back ground which it was forced to concede in its weakened state after the collapse of the USSR. This weekend, the leader of the Russian opposition has been placed under house arrest with no internet access: just the sort of thing one should do if one plans to launch an attack without the trouble legitimate parliamentary opposition can pose. On the other hand, Ukraine's own taste for freedom has been questioned since historically it cooperated with whichever totalitarian power promised it freedom from its occupiers. The presence of right-wing extremists in the Euromaidan caucus has not gone unnoticed.
Casting my own jaundiced eye on this situation, I have to wonder whether Russia's eye on the Crimea has got as much to do with keeping control of its military installations and their strategic advantages, as with favouring a Russian push towards further autonomy for the Crimea. All those Russians chanting nationalists songs in the region are missing the point.It is as certain that Russian resentment at Western interference is as understandable as would be UK resentment of Russians supporting the Scottish National Party.
Poor Ukraine ...
Now, the Church ...
Laurence England is convinced that our current situation in the Church denotes the advent of the great schism which various saints have predicted. If that were to happen, I would hardly be surprised. The tumultuous year that is just drawing to a close since Francis's election has prepared me to expect anything and everything.
My own instincts, however, suggest that things will not work out in such a neat way. In other words, if schism is on its way it may not be so easy to understand where the dividing lines fall and who is on one side or the other.
Of one thing, however, I am certain. If there is a clash of the titans coming at the Synod in October, we will have our pope to thank for it. He has not caused the divisions which a schism could reflect: they were there already. But his own words and actions seem to have forced these divisions out into the open and to what increasingly looks like a point of crisis.
Il Foglio has leaked his paper.
One cannot underestimate the immense difficulty of the role that the pope holds or the great spiritual need in which he must stand. But, for the same reason, one cannot but stand and shake one's head at the gross contradictions that are emerging from what looks like a wanton disregard of the dangers of pitting one side of the Church against the other. For every time he seems to reiterate Catholic teaching or spirituality on one point, there is a counterpoint action or intervention that leaves those trying to be faithful utterly bewildered. I am frankly awestruck.
Where will it end? I'm convinced in fact that the outcome in October and definitively in the Synod of 2015 will lack the kind of clarity that might indeed spark the schism that Lawrence England fears. The solution that emerges will probably be a slightly fudged one; there will probably be some concessions on ecclesiastical rules, but nothing that is definitively a break with the indissolubility of marriage. At the same time, I would not mind betting we will see the emergence of more widespread acceptance of communion for the remarried in Germany and elsewhere. The 'letter of the Synod' will say one thing; it is likely that the 'spirit of the Synod' will say something different. It will be a situation befitting the confusion of the last fifty years.
We have to rely on God in the small things as in the great. There is great wisdom in Chesterton's fascination with the ephemeral - a piece of chalk, a church spire, a plate of Stilton. We know what the outcome of this crisis should be. We are scandalised by the apparent recklessness of those in authority. But we are probably all the safer for allowing God to take care of the crisis and busying ourselves with the ephemera of life in which the charity of God can dwell quite as magnificently as in great events.
Let us pray for Ukraine, Pope Francis and for us all. Increasingly, I feel the need to stop talking to men and to talk to God alone.